Best of our wild blogs: 7 Mar 11

Life History of the Malayan Eggfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

Eggs of the Red Junglefowl
from Bird Ecology Study Group

裕廊湖观鸟 birding@Jurong lake 20110306
from PurpleMangrove

1 million views of wildsingapore flickr!
from wild shores of singapore

Abandoned net at Kranji Nature Trail removed!
from wild shores of singapore

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Indonesia: Captive Orangutans May Soon Be Freed

Robin McDowell Jakarta Globe 6 Mar 11;

Tanjung Puting National Park. Their black eyes peer from the slats of wooden cages, hundreds of orangutans orphaned after their mothers were shot or hacked to death for straying out of Indonesia's rapidly disappearing forests in search of food.

No one wants to get them back into the wild as much as Birute Mary Galdikas, who has devoted a lifetime to studying the great red apes, now on the verge of extinction.

And for the first time in years, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, thanks to a Hong Kong-based development company's plans to protect a 224,866-acre (91,000-hectare) peatland forest along Tanjung Puting National Park's eastern edge.

"The problem has been finding a safe place to release them," said the 64-year-old scientist. "Many are ready to go right now."

A half-century ago, more than three-quarters of Indonesia, a sprawling archipelagic nation spanning the width of the United States, was blanketed in plush tropical rainforest. But in the rush to supply the world with pulp, paper and, more recently palm oil — used in everything from lipstick and soap to "clean-burning" fuel — half those trees have been cleared.

It is here, in scattered, largely degraded forests, that almost all the world's 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans can be found. Another 1,500 live in a handful of crowded rehabilitation centers, many of them rescued after their mothers were killed.

Fadhil Hasan, the head of Indonesia's palm oil association, denied plantation workers were intentionally killing orangutans to protect their crops from raids, saying villagers involved in the illegal wildlife trade pose the greatest threat to the apes.

"Sure, maybe it happens occasionally," he said. "But the businessmen who run these plantations, and their workers, understand that these animals are protected."

Young orphaned apes can't be released directly into parks like Tanjung Puting — home to 6,000 orangutans — because of a 1995 decree that prohibits the release of ex-captives into forests with large wild populations, primarily over fears they'll introduce diseases like tuberculosis.

But the small patches of trees that remain are inadequate for their breeding needs and massive appetites. In the wild, the giant apes spend almost all of their day looking for fruit, consuming up to 20 percent of their body mass.

"We manage, just barely, to give them what they need for adequate lives," said Galdikas, as a dozen caretakers lift shaggy, young orangutans from their sleeping cages so they can spend much of the day frolicking in trees and the brush below. "The problem is that it's just barely."

Some come in traumatized. Others require long-term medical attention after themselves being beaten. And all need to be fed and cared for, taught how to forage for fruit and shown how to build treetop nests for sleeping.

That costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, money some critics say would better go toward protecting those left in the wild.

"Yes ... but really, what choice do we have?" asks Galdikas, who today spends much of her time, energy and limited funds on the 335 young apes at her own care center. Because of the species' intense maternal-infant bond, they need help until they are about 8. Around 50 of Galdikas' captives were ready to be released years ago, she said, and another 100 could go now.

"They are in this situation because of what we, humans, have done to them," she said, wiping her shoulder-length gray hair off her forehead. "We can't just abandon them ... stand by and watch as they go extinct."

There could be good news ahead for the orangutans, ironically because Indonesia's breakneck pace of deforestation has put it on the front lines of global efforts to fight climate change. Since carbon packed in trees pours into the atmosphere when cut or burned — doing more damage than planes, automobiles and factories combined — the focus has turned to finding ways to pay developing countries to keep trees standing.

It's still not clear who will fund the scheme or what the results will be. But a half-dozen rich countries, including Norway, have pledged $4.5 billion to get things moving. Private investors, too, are trying to convince governments they'd make much more from "carbon trading" than land conversion.

The goal is to limit pollution spit out by power plants and big factories by issuing "credits" for each ton of carbon they emit, which can then be bought or swapped to offset emissions.

One of the first testing grounds is the island of Borneo — shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. It is the main supplier worldwide of palm oil and home to 90 percent of the orangutans left on this planet.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan says he's ready to give the green light to PT Rimba Raya Conservation for what would be the first forestry project in his country to meet all requirements for international accreditation.

"It's been a long process, but I think, hope, we're just about there," said Hasan, who has faced strong resistance not only from palm oil companies, but also from local government officials eager to cash in on the lucrative crop and members in his own ministry.

The Rimba Raya concession, developed by the Hong Kong-based development company InfiniteEarth and Galdikas' own Orangutan Foundation International, would act as a buffer to Tanjung Puting and be the primary release site for her captives.

"Then we can get back to what we really want to be doing — studying and protecting those in the wild," said the Canadian scientist.

Galdikas was just 25 when the world-renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey sent the third of his so-called "ape angels" to Indonesia to study orangutans. He already had Jane Goodall in Kenya and Diann Fossey in Rwanda studying chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.

She set up camp deep inside Tanjung Puting, where her first challenge was simply spotting the well-camouflaged apes in the 30-meter-high trees, humming with the sound of cicadas and whooping gibbons.

Eventually, she was able to track them, sometimes for weeks at a time, helping discover much of what we know today about the largely solitary red apes.

At first, Galdikas had just four or five orphans, cajoled from army generals and rich businessmen who'd been keeping them as pets. Later, she was forced to set up a larger facility, quickly made obsolete by massive forest fires that swept Borneo in the late 1990s, tripling the numbers she had on her hands.

But nothing, Galdikas said, has had as devastating an impact as palm oil, which is why she never dreamed that private enterprise might one day be her best hope.

Four years ago, she partnered with American Todd Lemons, president of InfiniteEarth, who has since raised $4 million for a 30-year lease on forest with the guarantee he would restore the area to its original state. Villagers would also be given jobs patrolling against illegal loggers and replanting.

Though he hopes to one day make back his investment through the nascent "carbon trading" market, even he acknowledges it's a gamble."

But with forests the size of a soccer field disappearing worldwide every second of every day, we decided we couldn't afford to wait," he said.

Despite strong support from Hasan, the project has been stalled in the 11th hour by the ministry's own planning department, which faces heavy lobbying from provincial officials and palm oil companies.

"There are a lot of competing interests here," Bambang Supijanto, the department head, acknowledged. "We're doing what can, but we don't want to just take away licenses that have already been promised either...that will just create new problems."

For Galdikas, the most important thing is that orangutans have a forest to go back to.

"I feel terrible, awful ... especially for the males," she says, noting that unlike females, who have overlapping home ranges of 10 to 20 square kilometers, wide-roaming males generally require five times that."

They get the hormonal urge to start wandering as they enter sub-adulthood," she said. "Keeping them in small cages is psychologically stressful."

"They get the hormonal urge to start wandering as they enter sub-adulthood," she said. "Keeping them in small cages is psychologically stressful."

Associated Press

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Foresters discover extinct raintree species in Sabah

Muguntan Vanar The Star 7 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Foresters are excited about the discovery of three tropical raintree species that were thought to be extinct in Sabah.

The rare dipterocarp species, known locally as Keruing Jarang was found in the Siangau Forest Reserve, near the coastal town of Weston, about 100km from here.

The discovery was made during a survey of the area by a research team from the Forestry Department.

In a statement here yesterday, Sabah Forestry director Datuk Sam Mannan said the species Dipterocarpus lamellatus was last recorded at Beaufort Hill in 1955.

The only other record was from Labuan in 1951.

The island today is virtually devoid of any natural dry land forests, said Mannan.

“It is a very exciting development for us,” he added, saying the research team also encountered four other rare dipterocarps in the reserve.

The survey was part of a statewide inventory by the Forestry Department to determine the conservation status of dipterocarps in Sabah, he said.

Forest botanist John Sugau said that of the 267 species of dipterocarps known to exist on Borneo island, 183 were found in Sabah.

While some dipterocarps were common and widespread, others are rare and restricted in their distribution.

Keruing Jarang was only known to occur in the west coast of Sabah.

In the natural forest, the dipterocarps are large trees that form the upper canopy.

Dipterocarps such as kapur, keruing, seraya and selangan batu, make up the bulk of commercial timber from Sabah’s natural forests.

After many years of logging, the status of some of the rarer dipterocarps had become uncertain, said Mannan.

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Australia: Last straw for starving dugongs?

WA Today 5 Mar 11;

A new dredging project could kill off threatened dugongs that are already starving from the floods in central Queensland, conservationists say.

Gladstone Ports Corporation announced yesterday it had awarded a $1.3 billion contract to dredge Gladstone Port as part of its plan to become one of the world's major Liquid Natural Gas exporters.

It will be the country's largest dredging project.

Joint venture partners Van Oord and Dredging International Australia are expected to start dredging six million cubic tonnes of material from July.

Marine species policy manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Lydia Gibson, said the dredging may be the final straw for marine life already struggling after the floods killed off feeding grounds.

"We know that dugongs along the Queensland coast have lost most of their feeding grounds already after the recent floods," she said.

"The dredging could be a tipping point for dugongs. Although the full impact of the floods is yet to be known, the accumulative impact - this particular development, the floods, and fishing, would be a death of a thousand cuts for Queensland's dugongs."

Ms Gibson said the Queensland government has a study under way into the impact of the floods on marine life and she called on the project to be delayed until the report is in.

"The WWF is encouraging the government to hold off on approving the large scale development, particularly in the habitats of threatened marine species, at least until it's assessed the full impact of the floods on marine animals."

Treasurer Andrew Fraser said stringent environmental conditions had been placed on the project.

"This is to ensure the project has minimal impact on the environs of the Gladstone harbour," he said in a statement.

"The approval contains a stringent set of dredging conditions, monitoring requirements, ecosystem research plus a range of measures to protect and enhance endangered species."


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India: Record number of Olive Ridley turtle eggs

V Mayilvaganan The Times of India 7 Mar 11;

NAGAPATTINAM: Forest officials have collected a record number of Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) eggs from the vast shoreline of Nagapattinam district. The turtle travel miles in the sea and reach Nagapattinam coast between December and April, search for nesting places, lay their eggs and return to the sea, leaving the eggs at the mercy of predators.

District Forest Officer K Soundarapandian said more than 10,000 eggs have been collected from the nesting sites along the coastline of Nagapattinam since December last year when the turtles started trickling down to the shore for safe nesting. This has been double the number of eggs collected in the past. "We have to conduct a detailed study to find out the exact reason for the steep increase in the eggs. But our preliminary assessment is that intensive collection of eggs and prevention of predators from preying on the eggs are the reason. Increase in the number of turtles visiting the coast could be one of the reasons,'' said Soundarapandian.

When the state forest officials embarked on a project to protect the eggs from human and animal predators in 2005, the forest department staff managed to collect just 680 eggs from the nesting sites in Nagapattinam coast. Only 452 eggs hatched and the hatchlings were let into the sea. There was a gradual increase in the number of eggs collected in the subsequent years and in 2009, the number steeply rose to 5,224 eggs of which 5,100 hatched. This year, in Vedaranyam range alone 5,200 eggs were collected. Olive Ridley turtles, one among the seven living species of turtles and a scheduled living being protected under Wildlife Protection Act 1972, visit the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu in Nagapattinam between December and April. Of the 180 km-long coastline of Nagapattinam, 140 km stretch is suitable for turtle nesting, say forest officials. Found in Indo-pacific and Atlantic oceans, the turtles face threat in the sea due to indiscriminate fishing activities as well as environmental reasons like global warming.

Every year, forest staff with the aid of villagers would identify the nesting sites and collect the eggs. The eggs would then be taken to the captive breeding centres for incubation and then the hatchlings are let into the sea. "On Saturday 127 turtle hatchlings were let into the sea," said a forest official. The official said the eggs take about 62 days for hatching. "In the next few days the eggs will begin hatching in huge numbers," he said.

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